Steve's Blog
Tuesday June 1, 2010

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Hi everyone

It's my big anniversary weekend coming up - 25 Years of The Edge On Folk on CiTR fm 101.9! We're celebrating with a very special concert, and a radio show extravaganza the next morning.

1. Wake The Dead, Friday June 4th 8pm, St. James Hall (3214 West 10th Avenue)

Here's an article written by Tony Montague that has just been added to the website of the Georgia Straight. It will / should be in the print edition tomorrow:

Wake the Dead is grateful for Jerry Garcia's huge songbook By Tony Montague

One evening, Celtic fiddler Danny Carnahan put on an album by the Grateful Dead and, just for fun, started playing along with it. He found himself bowing the Irish jig "Christmas Eve" to the psychedelic classic "China Cat Sunflower". To Carnahan's amazement, the two tunes meshed perfectly. The seed for what would become Wake the Dead was planted in his mind.

Not long afterwards, I was at a party talking with [harpist] Maureen Brennan and [mandolinist] Paul Kotapish, Carnahan says, reached at his home in Albany, California. It turned out they'd both been doing the same thing - accidentally discovering points of intersection between Celtic music and the songs of the Dead. Paul would toss quotes from things like 'Dark Star' into bluegrass and Irish tunes, and Maureen would get bored playing at weddings or parties and casually morph from a 17th-century slow air to a song like 'Stella Blue'.

So the three of us sat around the kitchen table a few days later and started to play, and within an hour or so we had an album's worth of material, Carnahan explains. So we called up some people we'd wanted to play with forever, went into the studio, and made a recording. I took a couple of dubs over to the Dead's offices.

Two days later, the CEO of Grateful Dead Records called to say he wanted Carnahan and friends on the label - and to open for the Dead's rhythm guitarist, Bob Weir, and his band RatDog at the prestigious Fillmore.

The seven of us had never been in the same room at the same time together, Carnahan recalls. A few weeks later we were Wake the Dead, and within six months we'd sold 20,000 copies of our [self-titled] album. The Dead's extended family took us under their wing.

Since then, Wake the Dead has built a strong following in the Bay Area, but the band has rarely ventured outside California, and a forthcoming Vancouver show marks its Canadian debut.

In addition to the original three musicians, the septet comprises bassist Cindy Browne, uilleann piper Kevin Carr, hand percussionist Brian Rice, and singer-guitarist Sylvia Herold. All arrangements are made collectively at their jam sessions.

Everyone brings in favourite Dead songs or Celtic tunes, and we just start playing and see what happens, Carnahan says. Sometimes we find melodic elements that overlap or coexist happily. Sometimes we find structural ideas - we discovered early on, for instance, that Jerry Garcia [the Dead's late lead guitarist and songwriter] loved shuffle rhythms, which could be turned into jig time with little effort.

He was so steeped in American and British Isles music traditions that all the stuff he wrote for the Dead, though packaged as rock, was really folk once you strip it down to its underwear, he says. The shapes, phrases, keys, and chord changes are very accessible. The trick is not to hammer away at things that don't fall together organically. The songbook is so huge that there's still plenty of material for us to work on without breaking a sweat - there are no big barriers between traditional music and Dead songs.

This is a really fine band with gorgeous vocals, and scintillating musicianship. Their arrangements are impeccable, and you may never hear a Grateful Dead song in quite the same way after this! Such amazing depth in the lyrics, and all underlined and rearranged and wrapped up in the finest Celtic music for your delectation by this wonderful California septet. More information on

Tickets are selling fast, so get yours now online or at Highlife Records or Rufus' Guitar Shop. You can also reserve a ticket by calling 604-736-3022

2. The Edge On Folk 25th Anniversary Edition, Saturday June 5th 8am to noon, CiTR fm 101.9 and

It's hard to believe that 40 years ago I was at my first ever music festival, Hollywood, on a small farm in Staffordshire. The Grateful Dead, Traffic and a host of other fine bands played that weekend, and my life really hasn't been the same since!

It's even more amazing to think that 25 years ago this week I was stepping into the studio at CiTR for the very first time to host The Edge On Folk. I remember that day carrying a very heavy backpack loaded with LPs, and the total exhilaration of reaching the end of my first show with relatively few minor hitches! Some sort of Irish whiskey experience followed, I think ....

On Saturday June 5th from 8am to 12 noon I'll be hosting the 25th anniversary edition of The Edge On Folk, with musical guests Wake The Dead, and who knows what / who else might transpire? I'll certainly be spinning some more of my favourite songs from the last quarter of a century. Maybe you have a favourite you'd like me to include. Feel free to email me your requests and I'll see what I can do.

Above all, please join me for four hours of musical merriment - with a little slice of musical history thrown in - on Saturday from 8am to 12 noon on CiTR fm 101.9 (also streamed live on, with podcasts available later in the day.)

3. Eilen Jewell, Thursday June 10th 8pm, CBC Studio 700 (700 Hamilton Street)

June 10th is another big occasion - for three reasons: The World Cup kicks off in South Africa, it's the Early Bird Ticket Deadline for Rogues to buy passes for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and we have a very special concert that night with Boston singer Eilen Jewell and her fine band - at CBC's new Studio 700 Theatre!

This will be the first concert at CBC's new Studio 700 Theatre, and we are set to make more musical history with this remarkable singer and her excellent band.

This preview came from the Critic's Pick in the Detroit Metro Times last week:


Boston-based singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell harks back to the days of whiskey-soaked juke joints with her adept interpretation of classic country and bluesy folk. She's been compared to Lucinda Williams and Peggy Lee, and heralded as a torchbearer in the Gillian Welch tradition of Americana music. But while country, folk and western swing dominated her first two discs, her third effort, last year's Sea of Tears, explores the sounds of British invasion rock, reflecting influence by the Kinks, the Zombies and the Animals. It may seem like an odd departure, but, with her sweet and slow vocals, Jewell manages to combine the disparate sounds of bygone days into a modern day sound that's distinctly her own.

The venue is accessible, licensed, and there's even a balcony outside with a view across the lawn to the library building. Come along and hear a fabulous new voice at a great new performance space!

Tickets for Eilen Jewell are on sale online, at Highlife Records or Rufus' Guitar Shop. You can also reserve a ticket by calling 604-736-3022. [webmaster]

4. Coming soon

The Sojourners CD launch, Friday June 18th at St. James Hall. Vancouver's favourite Gospel trio will be joined by the Black Hen Studio band (featuring Steve Dawson & co.) and several guests, including a New Orleans-style marching band! This cocnert will be recorded by CBC Canada Live.

Plough's CD launch - postponed last September - takes place on Wednesday June 23rd also at St. James Hall. Opening for Plough will be Vancouver singer Leah Abramson. More details next week.

Slide guitar players might want to learn from the master: Steve Dawson is holding a workshop at Prussin Music on June 29th. Call 604-736-3036 for details.